Army head football coach Rich Ellerson met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the Black Knights' upcoming matchup with Vanderbilt.
Opening Statement "I want you to know just how much I've been looking forward to doing this. I can't wait to get the players on the field on Tuesdays. That's when the recovery starts and we can lean on each other. It was a very disappointing loss on Saturday. We are talking about our habits, the precision the discipline and the presence. The discipline in our eyes, the discipline of our feet, the details of our assignments - the guys are trying to hear us, and we are trying to be demanding and shape behavior. But change can come from two things: repetition, which we've been working hard at, and crisis. We experienced a little crisis as a football team on Saturday.
"It's a little bit like a car wreck. If you've been having trouble remembering to wear your seatbelt, get into a car wreck, and suddenly that's not a hard habit to come by. The challenge is of course to survive the car wreck, and we have. A team is a reflection of their coach, and I love most of what I see when I look in the mirror. We are together and they are determined. They care so much and their effort is good and getting better. Some of what I see in the mirror, I don't like and that we as coaches do not want to be a reflection of us. The players have seen the exact same thing when we turn on the film. We see opportunities to do things that are well within our ability, but due to a lack of attention to detail and being in the moment, they elude us. If we can learn that lesson, if we can finally come away with that understanding, and have this sense of urgency going forward, believe it or not it can almost be worth it to go through something like we just did, if and only if we come away with that lesson.
"The good news is that we talk about guys stepping up and making plays in critical situations. There were all kinds of critical situations where guys did step up and make plays. We don't have to look to watch the video of "100 Years of Army Football" to find that example. Look to Damion Hunter or Dean Lisante, or Mike Gann, because in critical situations in the game, they did heroic things through their responsibility to give us a chance. We need one more play, and we see 100 that are within our grasp if we'll attack the preparation with that sense of urgency, and stay together, which we have, and redouble our efforts in those regards.
"The challenge of course is that it doesn't get any easier. Now we play Vanderbilt. I would liken them to Iowa State with a better defense. They have been playing very good defense. They have similar styles of play from an offensive standpoint. Their quarterback's legs are much involved in the run offense, although they may be more committed to the run than Iowa State. They have a bevy of running backs who all have different strengths and have great ability. They are also young, so we can expect that they will improve as time goes along.
"It's a steep, uphill challenge, but it's attainable. It's not out of reach, but it is going to be difficult. It is going to be demanding. It's going to challenge us in every phase, and frankly, that's what we need."
(Ref.: how the team is progressing) "There is an uneven learning curve in different phases of what we are doing offensively and defensively. It's difficult to talk about this game in some respects when we talk about the keys to victory. Did we play harder than they did? Yeah. Did we win the turnover battle? Yeah, we did because they roughed the kicker. Did we win the kicking game? Yeah, we did. We do enough things well that correlate to being successful in critical situations, but that mental part, the precision, is what's keeping us away from our goal. We are making progress unevenly, but we are making progress. We try so hard to learn as much as we can without having to experience this feeling we have in our guts that.
"The good news is that nobody died. We were a free country, and we are still a free country, and we get a chance to play on Saturday. We get a chance to get some people together we really care about, and we get a chance to do something that's hard and uphill. We are an underdog and we love it. If we can just clear, take the lesson forward, and grasp this opportunity, we can put one on somebody. It's going to be hard, but that's ok."
(Ref.: Vanderbilt as an opportunity to take a step forward) "Every week is a test and a challenge, but the emphasis still needs to be on our play. The discipline, the detail, the precision that we are looking for, the sense of urgency that we should come away from this last week with - we'll have a great chance. If we don't do those things, we have no chance.
"We don't know how we are quite going to match up physically. We just don't have that frame of reference. We've been on the field with good people, so we're not going to freak out because they are from the SEC. We know it's going to be hard, but that's not new."
(Ref.: learning to deliver a knockout blow) "I've been crying a little bit about creating some field position for our offense with takeaways, with kicking-game plays, and we did that, but we still managed not to light up the scoreboard like we had the opportunity to. Again, consistency, opportunity, presence - we had chances. To get those chances, guys had to make plays. Those weren't gifts, we had some phases of the game where we had individuals who stepped up and made some of those plays that we're talking about. What I'm trying to point out to the guys is that the inspiration that they need to move forward is the guys standing next to them. We do not have to go into the archive to find an example of guys who are in the moment, competing fiercely, and making special plays, and making them together in critical situations. The whole kickoff return team in a critical situation just goes out there and they play their tails off. They knew we needed a play and they gave us one. There are examples out there that we can latch on to where it doesn't take a lot of imagination to project ourselves into."
(Ref.: what the offense is missing) "We don't have a lot of magic in terms of somebody where we can be close and give the ball to Billy Bob and he'll make everything right. He isn't here. We have some guys who can play, but we all have to play together and we all have to be on-point. We can't have eight or nine guys doing it exactly right but then have two or three guys that (make mistakes). When you play against good, athletic people, without magic it's going to be hard.
"We are having a hard time surviving a penalty. Once we get behind the count we have a hard time making those five or ten yards back up, and that's a concern. That's what got us in some of that field position stuff. The first thing we did was get ourselves behind the count."
(Ref.: the lack of success with the fullback dive against Tulane) "In some of those, they were making us give the ball. We've still got to block, we've still got to run, but we didn't get as much out of it as we thought we should have. When you look at it, there should be more there. Give them credit, but we can be better there's no doubt. The reads were one of the positives. We are getting the ball in position to make plays. We are not making those plays, but we are getting the ball into position to make those plays. We are getting the counts right, we are going to the right numbers and we are trying to block the right guys. Eight or nine guys have it right, but with two or three guys wrong, we just don't have that margin for error."
(Ref.: CBS College Sports Network carrying service academy games) "We think it's a great venue and we think service academy football is a great market. These guys represent their institution so well. They represent the Cadets and Midshipmen so well. Who we are and who we represent at this time in our nation's history, that's something to stand up and cheer about. How hard the guys compete represents us all so well. Certainly (not just) their contemporaries but all of us, and this is a great venue for it."
(Ref.: balancing precision with a need to play loose) "The flipside to that is we get into a game like (Tulane), and we're out in front a little bit, and we all get to where we're so afraid to make a mistake that we stop playing fast, we stop playing aggressively, we're not having fun or feeding off of one another's energy. That is an accurate concern that goes back to the practice environment. In a game, you let it hang out. In practice, you really have to turn the screws down. This is where you create the habits that you can lean on in a game. If you're in the game worried about what to do with your eyes and feet, if you do not have great confidence in what to do with your eyes and feet, if that's not automatic, and you're not reacting to things on the run, you're in trouble. You're slow and not feeding off each other because you're a little bit on an island. The sense of urgency in the practice environment is what we have to come to work with. We have this opportunity, because of the pain that we're all feeling coming out of last week, to take a giant step forward in that regard, so that when we get to the game, we can let it all out. You have to play this game with enthusiasm, passion, speed and you have feed off of one another's energies, and that can be contradictory if you're trying so hard not to make a mistake. When you do that, all you do is make mistakes."
(Ref.: recruiting the greater-Texas area) "We are new at this from a recruiting standpoint. We jumped into this in the middle of January. We're looking for athletes. We do not paint ourselves into a corner in terms of what a guy has to look like. You don't have to be 6-4, you don't have to weigh 290 pounds, what you have to do is be explosive and be athletic. We'll look anywhere for those guys. We think Texas is obviously a place where academies traditionally have done very well. Culturally, it's academy-friendly. During the course of the spring we put every coach on our staff that could be on the road in the metroplex there for two or three days doing a coaching clinic, and everything we could to create a presence in support of what we're trying to do here. It's not exactly what you would call an under-recruited area. People know there are good football players in Texas and in the metroplex. Houston has been especially good to us over the years, and it's been good to the Academy. A significant portion of the cadets come from the greater-Houston area. There's great support within the schools and within the population there for the decision to come to West Point. That is one of those areas we will attempt to be thorough in. We're looking for that guy that's maybe not quite tall enough for somebody else, but is explosive and athletic and obviously of the right character and intellect to prosper in the Academy."
(Ref.: Trent Steelman's progress so far) "Trent is playing well. There's always going to be a half dozen plays we want back. We had some mishandled snaps and the ball fell out of his hand when we were trying to throw the fade to Ali (Villanueva). When you're in a game where you need one more play, obviously you can't help but focus on the plays that were negative. He's one of those individuals we have that can break a tackle and make someone miss. You could make the argument that he's the best ball carrier, and the good news is that the ball is going through his hands. Obviously, the more he's carrying the ball the more he's getting tackled and there's wear-and-tear with that, and he probably throws it better than we give him credit for.
One of the things we were kicking ourselves for when we came off of the field on Saturday was that we talked ourselves out of the pass game a little bit. We did exactly what we tell our players not to do sometimes. We go out there and the ball falls out of (Trent Steelman's) hand and we throw an interception. We come out the next time and we throw the ball to a wide-open Pat (Mealy), and he drops it so we don't throw it much after that, and we need to. It's not a big part of who we are, but there were opportunities to do that, and we need not be afraid of our own offense. Not that what we were doing wasn't giving us a chance, but (the passing game) needs to remain a part of us because Trent throws the ball better than we give him credit for sometimes."
(Ref.: solidifying position battles) "You get to this part of the season and there are some guys that are playing a lot for you on Saturday that can't take some of the physical turns on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that gives us an opportunity to look at some guys. (Offensive guard) Fritz (Bentler) is back, and we're excited about Fritz being able to play. Now obviously Fritz hasn't played in a game but we like everything we saw in preseason and now that he's back out there. He'll pop back on to the radar a little bit. There are some guys like Jameson Carter who are getting banged up pretty good on Saturdays that we need to limit his reps during the week a little bit. As much as he needs them, he still needs to be fresh and healthy on Saturdays so that's going to create some opportunities for a couple of guys, maybe in the practice environment."
"We are still looking. We're talking about now grabbing a guy that's right now playing corner and putting him at A-back and looking at that a little bit. We are still exploring some of our personnel options."
(Ref.: using receiver Alejandro Villanueva) "We just need to utilize him. We don't need to add anything that we're not doing or haven't done. We'll continue to practice those things and improve those things, but we need not to talk ourselves out of trying to take advantage of those. Sometimes it's on our list of things to do, but when you get into a three-and-out there are a lot of things on your list of things to do that you don't get to. We need to make sure we keep him involved.
"I continue to be impressed (with his transition from offensive line). He and Trent (Steelman) are getting together on their day off to do some of the things that are new to him. He continues to play the ball better and better. He's never going to be perceived as a great, skilled wide receiver, but he's a big, strong guy. He can get up, he adjusts to the ball well, and he's catching the ball better and better all the time. There are some plays there for us."
(Ref.: comparisons between Vanderbilt and Iowa State) "They run a similar style of offense, although they emphasize different things. (Vanderbilt) is a veteran defensive outfit like Iowa State was. They are a very accomplished defense in a very difficult conference to play defense in. Offensively, they have not been as productive, but they have a stable of running backs that they've been working through. They are much more committed to the run game. I would say that in our game, Iowa State used the quarterback's legs more than they had, and they did it successfully in critical situations. Vandy uses (the quarterback) in the run game, but doesn't lean on him quite as hard as Iowa State did against us. That's something we have to be prepared for in a game where you've got two good defenses out there. You go to wherever you can to find a play."